Jeremy Corbyn isn't the only politician stuck in the past – Theresa May and Ukip are dwelling in the 1950s

Women of Theresa May’s age are increasingly choosing the single life over marriage, and yet she continues to promote a retro view of family life as half of a cosy couple who regularly goes to church

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Independent Voices

Nostalgia sums up the mood of the moment – everywhere you look, there’s the treacly stench of the past. Nostalgia (like a knockout cocktail) is terrific in small doses – a bit of a wallow can be comforting and harms no one, butt too much and you’re in trouble.

Last week I went to reunion for people who made the ground breaking telly series Network 7 some 30 years ago. To be honest, I don’t remember a lot of what happened back then, but some guests could recite all sorts of bonkers rules and examples of extremely demanding management (on my part). I confess to having a selective memory, otherwise my brain would be unable to assimilate new, more challenging input. I’ve got a simply theory: I make room for new stuff by consciously wiping out detritus from the past.

As for anniversaries, this year promises to be a corker. It’s 50 years since the summer of love, my first marriage, my first drugs bust, and the fabulous 14-hour Technicolour Dream rave at Alexandra Palace, where Pink Floyd performed at 5am and Yoko Ono staged a happening in which members of the audience were invited to cut off a woman’s clothes with scissors attached to a sound system. Happy days, but in 2017 I prefer to look forward, not back, planning new experiences and ways of engaging with the world.

Sadly, that philosophy doesn't apply to politicians campaigning for our votes in the coming election.

How we laughed at Ed Miliband and his Ed Stone (now a nostalgic feature in the garden of The Ivy in Chelsea) – but are the promises made by May and co any more credible? Corbyn tells us that he is determined to give everyone an equal opportunity to prosper and wants to ensure that the poorest in society get a fairer deal – all of which I applaud. How to achieve these laudable ideals in modern Britain?

Reading the Labour manifesto, Corbyn’s big ideas seem strangely unoriginal. Proposals to nationalise energy firms, the railways and Royal Mail seem the product of old trade unionists and young policy wonks who have a rose-tinted view of the past. To succeed as a provider of services in the modern world, you need consensus, to be inclusive, to draw in all participants (or stakeholders to use that hideous bit of consultant-speak). You need competition and an understanding of market demands and fluctuations.

No one would disagree that railways (for example) need a radical re-organisation, that ticket pricing is antediluvian and that there is no co-ordination between services offered by different operators. Nationalisation, though, is not the answer. Far stricter pricing controls, more competition on the main lines and subsidies on local services are the way forward. Stations all over the country are underused facilities that could house shops, banks, village halls and post offices. They could be sponsored, adopted by big business, becoming the hub of dying rural communities with branch lines reopened. There’s so much brownfield land around railways that’s still not being used for housing. We need a visionary to take on Network Rail and the operators – but we don’t need nationalisation.

Theresa May says husband Philip does 'boy jobs' around the house

As for the Tories, May is also obsessed with the past, intent on portraying herself as the dependable, reliable “difficult woman”, a safe pair of hands in any negotiation. Her appearance on The One Show with hubby in tow was toe-curlingly awful, reminiscent of an episode of Mr and Mrs. “Boys’ and girls’ jobs” – does anyone talk like that in 2017? It’s a line Penelope Keith would have been proud of. May is flogging her stable marriage as a badge of honour – a reason to be trusted with the complex negotiations that lie ahead.

But in the country at large, marriage is less popular now than it has been for years. More women than ever of Ms May’s age are getting divorced and choosing the single life, and yet she promotes a retro view of family life as half of a cosy couple who regularly goes to church – another pastime that is going out of fashion. Philip May, a nice rich banker, isn’t getting elected to run Britain – and yet he is part of the Tory leadership package.

Meanwhile, Ukip’s immigration spokesman John Bickley wants British students to pick fruit as part of a plan to reduce net migration to zero, but has he met any of them lately? Back in the summer of love, we picked fruit and waited on tables – these days students wouldn't know how to pick a raspberry from a damson in Tesco. Pick potatoes in pouring rain for less than £10 an hour? You must be joking. Ukip, like the other parties, is living in a dream world, circa 1956.

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